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Silicon Assays in Women With and Without Silicone Gel Breast Implants—A Review

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Abstract

During the past 5 years, as the failure properties of silicone gel breast implants have emerged, there has been considerable interest in measuring the levels of silicone and silicon in blood, serum, breast milk, and body tissues. Assays have been done in control patients without implant exposure, and in patients with silicone gel implants in an attempt to predict implant failure. Nuclear magnetic resonance measurements of silicone compounds have not been helpful because of their low sensitivity of detection. However, all compounds containing the element silicon, which includes silicone, have been measured accurately. Modern techniques, such as electrothermal atomic absorption spectrometry, direct-current plasma emission spectrometry, and inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy have allowed precise measurement of silicon in body fluids and tissues. Using these techniques, recent studies have demonstrated consistent levels of silicon in the blood and plasma of control women without exposure to implants. In one study, plasma silicon was shown to be 140 ± 10 ng per milliliter. In four other studies, serum silicon levels in control patients were the following: mean, 130 ± 70 ng per milliliter: mean, 170 ± 100 ng per milliliter; median, 100 ng per milliliter (range, 30-209 ng per milliliter); and 10 to 250 ng per milliliter. Three independent studies have shown that women with silicone gel implants have higher blood and serum silicon levels than control subjects, but their values were still within the range of control subjects. One study has shown that the mean silicon level in breast milk was not significantly different between 15 implant patients and 34 control patients. The measurement of silicon in control breast tissue has shown consistent results in three different studies, with most tests varying from <0.2 to 2.2 μg per gram dry weight. Three studies have shown that capsules from women with silicone gel breast implants had markedly elevated silicon levels compared with control breast tissue. Median silicon levels varied from 9,980 to 14,390 μg per gram dry weight. There was no significant difference in capsule silicon level between intact and ruptured implants or associated with implant duration in situ or year of implantation. Four studies have shown that capsules from saline implants had elevated levels of silicon compared with control tissue, but their silicon levels were much lower than those of gel implants. The median levels of silicon in the capsules of these studies were as follows: 7.7, 71.5, 198, and 1,100 μg per gram dry weight. Based on current knowledge, because of the large variability among patients, the use of silicon measurements in blood, serum, breast milk, or implant capsule tissue has no clinical role for the effective monitoring of implant leakage in women with silicone gel breast implants.

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